"Batman Begins" Quirky young director Christopher Nolan ("Memento") promised some of the off-kilter energy that Tim Burton brought to the first installments in this superhero series. But like a certain Sith currently lording it over the box office, Nolan has given in to the dark side. In a prequel to the other Batman movies, we're taken back to the murders that scarred Bruce Wayne's boyhood, then whisked off to a Himalayan fortress where Wayne (Christian Bale), now a young man, is trained in the ways of the Ninja by a vigilante squad led by Liam Neeson. Ninjas? A double handful of current events and traditional Hollywood bogeymen give "Batman Begins" an air of the haphazard. The movie ends up just another bit of overdigitized Hollywood schlock, buoyed occasionally by its striking tableaux or a flash of wit. (PG-13) ** Thomas Peyser
"Bewitched" All of Nicole Kidman's talents are wasted in this remake of the popular old television show. Will Ferrell saves us time and again from slicing our wrists with the edge of the nearest plastic soda top as he hams for the camera. But even his expert clowning is not enough to save the movie as it crumbles around midpoint, about when you'd expect a '60s TV show extrapolated into a feature length film to go. Director Nora Ephron ("Sleepless in Seattle") and producer Penny Marshall ("A League of Their Own") have fun setting up the story. Then with a thunderous clap comes the inevitable realization that there actually isn't one. (PG-13) *1/2 Wayne Melton
"Cinderella Man" Multiple Oscar nominations are written all over this one, thanks to a compelling script that's expertly acted and directed. Russell Crowe brings his estimable talents to bear as a Depression-era family man and boxer (Jim Braddock) who keeps his priorities straight in the face of unrelenting social turmoil. Renée Zellweger rises to the acting challenge opposite Crowe as Jim's loyal wife who provides a stable if worried guardian of familial well-being. But it's Paul Giamatti who glues the story together as Jim's commendable boxing manager Joe Gould. Director Ron Howard expertly uses the music of silence to underscore this deeply felt movie based on real-life boxing underdog James J. Braddock. The boxing sequences here are better than those of Martin Scorsese's bar-setting "Raging Bull." (PG-13) ***** Cole Smithey
"Dark Water" This miserable remake of another Japanese thriller by Hideo Nakata splashes around in another water-themed ghost story about a little girl haunting a mom and her kid (… la "The Ring"). Jennifer Connelly plays the single mom whose young daughter develops an imaginary friend after they move into a faulty high-rise apartment building. Ceilings drip with moldy water, and every faucet exudes brown crud as Connelly's single parent seeks aid from her questionable attorney (Tim Roth) to protect her from her husband's accusations that she's losing her mind. Brazilian director Walter Salles ("The Motorcycle Diaries") made a bad decision to take this as his first Hollywood outing, a horror movie that will drown you in boredom. (PG-13) *1/2 C.S.
"Fantastic Four" Stan Lee has turned into a greedy arch-villain right out of one of his comic books. One look at the role models here a big, dumb fatherly figure (Michael Chiklis, as stone man The Thing), a young hotshot who loves extreme sports (Chris Evans, as the Human Torch), a nerd (Ioan Gruffudd, the pliable Mr. Fantastic) and a pretty, but otherwise invisible, female (Jessica Alba, the Invisible Woman) says it all about who this mutation mess is aimed at. Forget comparisons to the recent "Spider-Man" films. "Fantastic Four" doesn't even measure up to the ones they made in the '70s. One turgid scene involves an argument over special powers, filmed in front of a backdrop of gargantuan banners for Dell, Activision, Dos Equis, Wal-Mart, etc. Mr. Fantastic: "Is it just about making money and getting girls?" The Human Torch: "What else is there? You know what, this is who we are. Accept it. Or better yet, enjoy it." Sounds like the movie industry is trying to tell us something. (PG-13) * W.M.
"George A. Romero's Land of the Dead" A zombie anti-hero emerges in the guise of a black mechanic known as "Big Daddy" (Eugene Clark) in Romero's fourth installment in the series of films that famously began with his heart-stopping 1968 opus "Night of the Living Dead." Big Daddy leads an army of beautifully gruesome zombies as they seek entry into their demolished city's well-defended skyscraper of civility that protects the richest members of society (led by fiendish capitalist Dennis Hopper). Romero keeps the political and social satire subtle but consistent as a group of heavily armed mercenary cowboys perpetrate violent anarchy against zombie civilians whose future is as bleak as that of their occupiers. Gory sight gags and intestine eating abound in this must-see movie for fans of the horror genre. (R) *** C.S.
"Rebound" The game begins with Tom Arnold mouthing off as a panelist on a TV sports-talk show, and we can hear the air leaking from this underdog kid's movie already. The object of his fulminations is hotshot/hothead college basketball coach Roy McCormick (Martin Lawrence), whose winning ways have abandoned him. Before you can say "Bobby Knight," he's coaching a hapless team of junior high kids, hoping that by taking on this penance he will ingratiate himself with the authorities and regain his old position. According to the credits, it took no fewer than five writers to come up with this dull, harmless retread of "The Bad News Bears." As it happens, an honest-to-goodness remake of "The Bears" is due out later this month. Do yourself a favor and wait for the authentic imitation. (PG) 1/2 star T.P.
"War of the Worlds" For subtext-plumbers as well as people just munching popcorn in the dark, there's no misinterpreting the war-on-terror imagery, with dust-soaked people running from a centralized catastrophe, a father assuring his kids it wasn't terrorists and a race being annihilated by a remorseless, mechanized occupying force. As for the pipe-laying and bloodsucking that follow, you can draw your own conclusions. Though Spielberg's sci-fi remake stumbles over a few "Jurassic Park" moments and makes little use of Tom Cruise, it is never lost in grandiosity or overdone special effects. "War of the Worlds" admirably goes beyond the H.G. Wells story, but the thrills are simply monsters chasing us around in the dark. (PG-13) ***1/2 W.M.
"The Wedding Crashers" Vince Vaughn commits rampant acts of comic zeal, but the script around him crumbles in a movie that loses its thrust like a cat caught in traffic. Vaughn and Owen Wilson play two enduring bachelor buddies who live for the spring and summer wedding season when they hunt unsuspecting bridesmaids. The two go for big game when they crash the wedding of a presidential cabinet member's daughter, getting themselves in big trouble. The movie works best when its comic set pieces turn embarrassingly blue amid formal social settings, like churches and a prominent family's dinner table. However, first time screenwriters Steve Faber and Bob Fisher lose track of worthy secondary characters while extending extraneous narrative threads toward anticlimaxes, as when Will Ferrell makes an irritating appearance as a sex hound sniffing around a funeral. (R) ** C.S.
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